Listen With Others

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Mortality by Eck

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 May 2019

Wasn’t Eck’s debut Listener crossword the one about the Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock that was in the shape of a stick of rock? Then we had two Shakespearian themes, Hamlet and The Tempest, so we could expect a literary theme. Mortality, indeed – wasn’t that Scott?  Vaccination (or the dangerous lack of it) is a current media theme so we wondered whether our preamble was leading us towards Pasteur, and as French words and names filled the grid (Alsace, Charlot, Merlot, Leon Gaston, Emile, Jules and Alain) that still seemed to be a possibility.

Yes, that Merlot appeared fairly early in our solve ‘Dusty blackbird going back as far as plank’. “Plonk”, I said – ‘”that’s a misprint, and we have an old word for a blackbird and TO reverse”. “Merlot is not plonk!” Muttered the other Numpty, filling his glass “but misprints can be tough to find so that’s probably it.” So with just ‘plonk’ do we renew Eck’s membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite? Then we saw ‘How many old trews are drunkenly ripped losing ragged end? (6)’ – drunkenly – Hmmm, drunk on plonk (we opted for ‘trees’, removed ‘END* from *DRUNKENLY” in a subtractive anagram and decided that ‘KNURLY’ is ‘How many old trees are) – but there is the redeeming ‘Alsace’ – I think we can say “Cheers, Eck!” We certainly can for such a fine compilation, packed with devices and clues that had us head-scratching till midnight.

So many things going on: there were three ‘normal’ clues that had to be changed ultimately, extra definition words hidden in nine clues, seven clues where groups of two or three letters had to move within the clue and also to be sorted into a thematic name, AND the dreaded misprints. We groaned and started solving very slowly.

When we realized that all those Frenchmen could be beheaded, leaving real words, Guillotine sprang to mind and we laboriously worked out that the moving letters were EN, BL, EY, AK, CY, PER and SIR. Penny drop moment (mixed metaphor, I suppose – it’s a dropping guillotine blade with Madame Defarge gleefully knitting in the audience). SIR PERCY BLAKENEY, the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has to save three of the doomed aristocrats and we realize with delight that they are JEAN (from SEJEANT), LUC (from RELUCT) and a lady, AGNES (from MAGNESIA).

The corrected misprints have spelled out NOM DE GUERRE IN APT HUE and we find PIMPERNEL in the most likely place. I have to combine pink and orange to produce a colour that Wiki would accept as scarlet.  What is left to do? Confirm that we have definitions for the nine new words that have appeared. Not easy, as we were confused about ‘abode’ and ‘assigned’ – which was SET and which was LAIN? Well it didn’t really matter: we opted for

BILLION YEARS = EON
STREETWALKER = HARLOT
ASSIGNED = LAIN
TREES = ULES
WARD IN MIDLANDS = ASTON
RACE = MILE
FARROW MAYBE = MIA
EXPOSED TO DAMP = RET
ABODE – probably a badger’s SET.
This was a very challenging compilation but what an achievement. Many thanks, Eck.
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